Outstanding Southeastern Alumni Profiles

Greg Armstrong

As chairman, CEO, and co-founder of one of the largest crude oil transportation companies in North America, with an enterprise value at more than $20 billion, Greg Armstrong, class of 1980, has a simple philosophy of leadership; do the right thing.  He leads Plains All American Pipeline (PAA) and its general partner holding company Plains GP Holdings (PAGP), based in Houston, Tex.

PAA transports approximately 4.5 million barrels of crude oil and natural gas liquids per day though its pipeline, gathering, trucking, railcar, barge and terminal assets.  PAGP was ranked 67th in the Fortune 500 in 2015, and has been named repeatedly as one of “America’s Most Admired Companies”.  The Houston Chronicle has named PAA as one of the “Top Workplaces in Houston” each year since 2010.  Not surprisingly, Armstrong himself received leadership awards from the Chronicle in 2010 and 2012 for the “Large Company” category.  He was recently inducted into the 2015 Texas Business Hall of Fame.

A first-generation Southeastern graduate, his family moved to Durant in 1969 and lived about three houses from the university. They owned a grocery store and laundry mat on what is now SE campus property.  He, and his two sisters, both Southeastern graduates, basically grew up in the shadow of the Southeastern campus.  For the Armstrong clan, there never was any thought of going to school elsewhere.

“Debbie, Gail and I were blessed to have two great parents, Frank and Jean Armstrong, who worked very hard to provide us the opportunity to attend Southeastern and become first-generation graduates,” he said.  “I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do when I graduated.  At one time I thought about being a lawyer or maybe an engineer, but that wasn’t really available at SE at the time.  All I knew for sure was I wanted to be in business so I took all the business courses I could get.  When I realized I had about 40 hours of accounting courses it seemed wise to go on and get the accounting degree.”

Although Armstrong has spent the bulk of his career, more than 30 years, building and leading the two Plains oil companies; he began his career at PricewaterhouseCoopers as a member of their auditing team.  PwC is one of the largest professional services firm in the world.  He found out pretty quickly his education at Southeastern was as good, and in some cases much better, than what some of his peers at PwC had experienced at larger universities.

“I believe the reason I obtained such a good educational foundation at Southeastern is because the classes were smaller and the instructors were very engaged with the students,” he said.  “I had co-workers from larger universities tell me their classes were sometimes 100-150 students.  Our classes were around 20-30 so you could get extra time with your professors and talk with them one-on-one if you needed a little extra help or just wanted to get their perspective or guidance on career alternatives.”

The Southeastern distinguished alumnus is involved in many charitable, industry and civic organizations.  He is currently director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and previously served as chairman of the Houston Branch board.  He is also the lead director of National Oilwell Varco, Inc.  Among his charitable and civic endeavors include serving as a member of the National Petroleum Council, a director on the advisory board of the Cox School’s Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, and the Board of Trustees of the Foundation for the Council on Recovery in Houston.

“One of the memories about Southeastern that really stayed with me was the time I made my only “C” in an accounting class taught by Dale Garner,” he said.  “I didn’t know if I was madder at him or myself, but it motivated me to buckle down and work harder.  I think I was coasting a little bit there and that “C” was a wakeup call for me.  I’ve never forgotten that grade, and I think it’s always reminded me to work my hardest at whatever I’m doing.”